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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): Cantatas

Gotthold Schwarz, bass; Richard Mauersberger, treblea
Members of the Thomanerchor Leipzigac; La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: September 6 - 8, 2004ac & September 27 - 28, 2006b, Polditz, Kirche Altleisnig
Capriccio - 67 190 (© 2007) (50'06")

Der Friede sei mit dir (BWV 158)a; Ich habe genung (BWV 82)b; Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56)c

Two of the three cantatas on this disc belong to the most popular vocal works by Bach. Both Ich habe genung and Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen were written as part of the third annual cycle of church cantatas in 1726/27. At the time they were composed Bach wrote several other solo cantatas as well. It is very likely these two cantatas for bass were to be sung by Johann Christoph Samuel Lipsius, who was a law student at Leipzig University at the time, and who regularly sang the bass parts in Bach's cantatas. During the years 1725 to 1727 the Leipzig city council paid him 12 Talers per year in recognition of his commitment.

The cantata Ich habe genung was written for the Feast of the Purification of Mary (or Candlemas) on 2 February. Its central theme is the longing for death and eternal life of the believer, now that Jesus has come. Its background is the canticle of Simeon, which as 'Nunc dimittis' has become a part of liturgy of the Christian Church: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace ... for mine eyes have seen thy salvation". It seems Bach liked this cantata very much. He reworked in three times: there is a second version for soprano, a third for mezzosoprano and a fourth for bass again, this time with an oboe da caccia as obbligato instrument, instead of the oboe of the first version. And in addition the first recitative, 'Ich habe genung', and the second aria, 'Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen', were included in the Clavierbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach, its scoring being reduced to voice and basso continuo. It isn't just the music which Bach must have liked, but probably in the first place its subject: the longing for death, being a transition to eternal life and a salvation from sin, is a frequently returning issue in Bach's sacred music.

The cantata opens with the aria 'Ich habe genung': "It is enough: I have taken the Saviour, the hope of all the pious, eagerly into my arms". This aria is in c minor, which - according to Johann Mattheson - is both sweet and sad. And, Mattheson adds, if the listener shouldn't fall asleep the music should contain some liveliness. That is exactly what is the case here, but in this performance it is too sad and gloomy, reflected by the slowish tempo. Even the lively third section - "Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden von hinnen zu scheiden" (Now I want to depart from here with joy) - is not particularly joyful. Next follows the recitative 'Ich habe genung', which - like all recitatives on this disc - is performed rhythmically too strict, whereas all treatises of the baroque era ask the performer to sing according to the rhythm of the text. It should be performed in much more declamatory style. The third movement is the aria 'Schlummert ein', one of Bach's most famous. It is in E flat, and again it is in line with Mattheson's characterisation of this key as "plaintive" and "pathetic" (in the neutral meaning of the word). It is sad so little of its character comes out in this performance. The singing of Gotthold Schwarz is too bland, and the characteristic swaying rhythm is hardly realised by the orchestra. After another recitative the closing aria - again in c minor - is about the joy in expectation of death. Not very much of that is noticeable here as the performance is just too subdued.

The next cantata, Der Friede sei mit dir, is a bit of a puzzle. No authograph exists, and it is impossible to date this work. Although the second and third movement are thematically comparable to the cantata Ich habe genung the manuscript copy mentions both Candlemas and the third day of Easter as the days it was written for. From a textual point of view this is rather strange, as the second and third sections are difficult to link to Easter and the first and fourth can hardly be associated to Candlemas. This has been reason to suggest the cantata in its present form could be a compilation of pieces from otherwise unknown cantatas, put together by someone else. It begins with a recitative which refers to the words with which Jesus has greeted his pupils after his resurrection: "Peace be with you". Then follows an aria for bass which expresses the aversion for this world and the wish to be with Jesus. The soprano sings the chorale 'Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde' (World, farewell, I am weary of you) on a melody by Johann Rosenmüller as cantus firmus. An oboe is playing colla parte with the singer. The aria also contains a virtuosic part for violin, but the German Bach scholar Alfred Dürr suggests it could have been originally written for transverse flute. That is how it is played here, but strangely enough the programme notes don't touch the issue at all. As far as I know only a couple of previous recordings use a flute as well (for instance Joshua Rifkin). The flute part is played well here, and Schwarz is giving a reasonably good account of the aria. Richard Mauersberger, a member of the St Thomas' Choir, has a nice voice and sings the chorale very well. The closing chorale, a stanza from Luther's Easter hymn 'Christ lag in Todesbanden', lacks a bit of power.

Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen is written for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. Its subject is the devout Christian shouldering his cross until he is taken into the promised land. The first aria is a vivid depiction of the believer walking under the heavy burden of the cross. The performance is again rather bland and there is hardly any declamation in the last, recitative-like section. The next recitative has an obbligato part for the cello, which expresses the waves which the text talks about. Here the journey of the believer through the world is compared to a boattrip. The cello falls silent when the text refers to the end of the boattrip as the Christian leaves the boat and enters his city: heaven. It is a pity so little is done with this very expressive recitative. At least the cellist plays her part well. Next follows a joyful aria in which the believer expresses his relief that his cross will be taken off his shoulders. It is done reasonably well, but it isn't very sparkling. Another recitative follows and the cantata closes with a four-part chorale.

I have already indicated this is a rather disappointing recording. I have heard Gotthold Schwarz several times, and I have never been really impressed. He is certainly capable of singing short solos, but his singing is too one-dimensional for cantatas like these. The two solo cantatas on this disc have been recorded many times, and it won't be very hard to find some recordings which are much better than this one. So I don't see any reason for this recording. Although La Stagione Frankfurt is an excellent ensemble, here it doesn't show its qualities: the playing is just as subdued as the singing, and the sound lacks some clarity too, perhaps also due to the acoustical circumstances.

In short: a superfluous recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

La Stagione Frankfurt

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